PORTLAND — For the first time since 2009, the top 6A high school wrestling team in Oregon hails from the Chehalem Valley.
After a season of utter dominance in dual meets and tournaments throughout the state and region, the Newberg Tigers won the state championship on Saturday at Memorial Coliseum.
Sophomores Ayden Garver (126 pounds) and Charlie Evans (132) and senior Hunter James (195) won individual titles for Newberg, securing a significant chunk of their team's points. But as coach Neil Russo said in the lead-up to the championship tourney, this tournament always comes down to the consolation matches and it was there that Newberg pulled away from six-time defending champion Roseburg.
"I am so happy for these kids," Russo said. "They are an incredible group that had a great season and great tournament. We put an emphasis on fighting in those consolations and they did that.
"The most amazing part of this was their support for each other, picking each other up when they needed it most and (they were) excited for each other when they have success. I couldn't be prouder of these guys."
The Tigers scored 310.5 team points compared to 262.5 for the second-place Roseburg Indians, with Mountain View finishing third at 209.5.
Newberg senior Gideon Cole (132), junior Micah Worthington (138), freshman Hudson Davis (160) and junior Connor O'Bryan (285) all placed third in the tournament, while sophomores Price Pothier (145) and Gavin Korkeakosi (152) joined freshman Cougar Friesen (160) in finishing fourth. Junior Alec Love took fifth at 195 pounds.
Placing sixth for the Tigers at 120 pounds was sophomore Nicky Olmstead, who came into the tournament seeded No. 2 but suffered an injury that forced him to forfeit in the semifinals. His potential advancement would have added to Newberg's already massive point total. Junior Nolan Womack was also sixth in the 145-pound division.
Garver's match at 126 ended in a 10-4 decision over Kahleb Diaz of Roseburg, a hard-fought bout that resulted in the young wrestler's second individual title in as many years. He previously won the 6A title at 113 pounds as a freshman.
"We are solid up and down," Russo said. "We have kids who didn't get into our varsity lineup on a regular basis that were on the podium at state. It was a heck of a team performance. We may have had more talented teams, but I've never seen something like what this team did this weekend.
"This tournament is a rollercoaster of emotions. It's hard to stay on an even keel and for me personally my personality doesn't allow me to do that anyway. I am physically and emotionally exhausted, but am 100 percent satisfied with these kids and their efforts."
Evans was dominant from the outset of his championship match at 132. After tossing his opponent around the mat with relative ease, Evans dispatched Sandy's Isaiah Shideler with a fall late in the third round. The dramatic ending to his victory ignited an emotional fire in Russo, who jumped for joy.
James grappled with Mountain View's Blake Ohlson in the championship at 195, locking arms with his powerful opponent and gripping his wrists for much of the contest. Ultimately, James won on a 6-3 decision, but it took a significant effort to dispatch Olson.
The moment after James's victory was one of pure joy as he leapt into Russo's arms – leaving sweat stains on his coach's dress shirt and tie. James then sprinted to his mother on the sideline, who was photographing the match, and held her in a long embrace as tears flowed. The announcer in Memorial Coliseum then announced Newberg as state champions.
James was met by his teammates in an auxiliary room in Memorial Coliseum as they all cheered for and hugged him. By that time many of the wrestlers were celebrating, laughing and smiling alongside their coach.
The friendships developed on this team and the lifelong memories made are what stood out to many of the young athletes.
"When you suffer every day in the room, you usually develop a pretty good relationship," Davis said. "It's great to see those guys succeed and sometimes you're more nervous for their matches than your own."
After the final bouts were whistled to an end, the Tigers gathered at the center of the arena and hoisted their championship trophy in front of the cameras and a sea of adoring parents, fans and fellow students.
The first title in more than a decade marks a crucial moment for a program back on the rise. On Saturday in front of thousands of wrestling fans from around Oregon, Newberg rose to the pinnacle of high school wrestling in the state – one this talented young group may not climb down from for years to come.
When it was all settled, Russo reflected on what the victory means to him and to the Newberg community. He called his wrestlers "great ambassadors" for their town and looked forward to getting back to work on Sunday after celebrating Saturday night.
"They are great kids on the mat and off the mat – most importantly off the mat," Russo said. "They're fun to be around, they're keeping me young and I am enjoying every bit of it. People like to comment on my antics and jumping up and down, but when I stop doing that is when I'll be done coaching. To share the moment with these kids when they achieve their goals is why you do this, and it never gets old."
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